The Borat Country Blog Round-up! Launch Day +21 to Launch Day +24! Roll the tape!
The welcome to the glorious nation of Kazakhstan couldn’t have been better, as our friends from Team Pandiamoaquelpaese were treated to some overly social parking etiquette by two Kazakh cars just after crossing the border.
The border itself was very relaxed. Took a while, but no hassle, no visa, no bribes (mostly this); just a bit of pushing and shoving in a room of about 60-80 people with just 6 customs booths. After we got in though we had to buy car insurance, which took about two hours of guys just writing stuff down, checking a computer, writing more stuff down, waiting, us ordering fastfood, them checking their computers again, until we finally got the green light.
That morning we had set out from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, some 10-20km from the Kazakh border and we decided to just aim for Almaty that day, for a trip of less than 300km. 3-4 Hours of waiting at the border quickly filled our day though! Former USSR countries, so efficient. They redefine the Time = Money motto and turn it into Taking More Time = Money; must be why their countries are all blossoming democracies with well-functioning economies and low inflation rates *cough*.
Almaty, though, seemed like a really fun city, even though we only spent the night and the morning there. It was the capital till the late 90s and there seemed to be quite a lot going on by Soviet Union standards. Lots of bars, restaurants, and of course the patented square-grid city plan. We settled down in this really oldskool former Soviet building-turned-into-low-budget-hotel. Just check the video! We had fantastic panoramic views from our gorgeous balcony as well.
And yes that actually is the slogan of the city. We’ve got Azerbaijan marketing themselves as the Land of Fire, Ashgabat calling itself the City of White Marble, and then you’ve got Almaty going with the “City of Apples” moniker. Not the best way to attract tourists I’d say.
They did have a very touristy Eiffel Tower though. We instantly burst out La Marseillaise to pay our respects.
Nah not really. If only I knew French. All I can do in French after 4 years of it in high school is introduce myself and order a kilo of peaches. For some reason that last sentence just stuck in my head forever. Hasn’t been useful in my life just yet, but maybe one day. Oh Kazahkstan please try to just get the flag projection right next time. That’s the flag of my blessed mother (father?) country instead.
We had food but I didn’t take a picture so we didn’t have food I won’t include a photo and let’s pretend this never happened as we continue the blog. Vamos!
By far the funniest thing in Kazakhstan though was their “Kazakhstan 2050” plan
Dictatorships are just the best. Setting a plan for 2050? Basically means that you have an excuse for everything mess up in the short term, and half the people you tell about “Kazakhstan 2050” will be dead in 2050 anyway. And so will that dictator himself. Genius stuff.
The next morning we made sure to withdraw some dollars as the Kazakh police is notorious for soliciting hefty bribes. Luca made sure to ward them off before they even tried though.
We in fact didn’t pay a single bribe in Kazakhstan, which according to our fellow Mongol Rally teams, is one the most remarkable achievements of the entire trip so far.
We briefly saw their WWII memorial. Or some other war, I really don’t know. Probably not WWII as that seems quite a bit out of the geographical proximity where stuff happened. But who knows. War memorial, here goes.
Or maybe it celebrates independence. Who knows. Whatever. It’s pretty ugly anyway.
That morning we set out for… yeah, what actually. There really isn’t much in that country to begin with. It has roughly the same population as the Netherlands (~17 million) but is 70 times as big. Do the math. Let’s just there isn’t too much there outside of the cities.
Before we left though we visited a mechanic as our left front brake was making a rattling noise. Took him 40 minutes to fix, cost us 3 euros. Highway robbery.
He didn’t really fix it properly though as we had to have it fixed again the day after. Only true badboys can get their car to take off
This time we paid the Kazakh equivalent of the grand total sum of 1 euro and 20 cents. Luckily we got out of Kazakhstan unnoticed, as it would’ve been a shame to go to jail there for theft.
We were convoying with our Romanian friends from Team Learnmads who also happened to have car problems, but actual serious problems unlike minor things like us. So we settled for some repairs at this deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere somewhere on the Kazakh Steppes.
While they were all looking at the car I was just kicking a football around, bringing them some water here and there, and nodding and saying “ah yes of course” to everything car-related they said. Totally living that 5th string mechanic life.
So basically we slept in some place in the middle of nowhere roughly 500km north of Almaty. We did learn how to say good morning in Russian though.
That’s the first bit obviously. Davaj davaj just means “go go,” and we’ve started saying it for everything really. Quite catchy.
We set out for Semey in northeast Kazakhstan, some 100km from the Russian border. Once again, you guessed it, car mechanic time! Our Italian friends needed our help to get one of their parts welded, and later on in the trip they helped us readjust our brakes.
It’s good to have friends on the road.
Over dinner they got a hand on my action cam and loved every second of it. Just two of the shots we got that involve childish joy!
Other than that we had a lot of empty landscapes and scenes from nowhere. As I can’t really recall what photo we took what day as it’s all the same, I’m just going to throw a bunch in here not sorted in any way or form.
We got into Semey at night, literally did nothing there except sleep, and headed for the Russian border. But that’s for another blog, time to grade this place!
A new recurring feature! Since we’re now coming across countries most of you have never been or may never ever go to, we’re going to hand out travel advice! For free! Lonely Planet we’re coming for that market share! Our travel advice is indexed by 1-5 Shakira’s: 1 being the lowest score, whereas 5 means that you should go Whenever, wherever! (Get it?). We mix in some advice on the when’s (think temperature, tourism seasons etc) as well as the where’s, and we index it all with Shakira’s!
So Kazakhstan didn’t really impress too much one way or the other. We liked Almaty but didn’t like the roads, so in return we’re just going to give it the most bland ranking just yet. 3 Shakira’s, right down the middle.
I’m pretty sure Kazakhstan has like a land climate so it gets damn cold in winter. Then again it’s so big it probably has a lot of climates. Just don’t go in winter.
Let’s just say the road network is not amazing. Understatement. Outside of Almaty we really didn’t encounter anything worthwhile except for open space and small towns. We’ve heard Astana is really cool in a weird way, like a Central Asian Las Vegas with crazy architecture in the middle of the desert/steppes. But yea, no need to travel around as you’ll see the same thing over and over.
That’s it for now, Russia blog coming as soon as we get out of here. Still in Kazan for now, Moscow later today or tonight hopefully, and we’ll go from there. Shakira, take us out!
Luca & Abel